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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

By Contributing Writer and PD Patient 
Jim McFarlin

"Happy Days Are Here Again."

"Keep Your Sunny Side Up."

"Put on a Happy Face."

"Don't Worry, Be Happy."

"California Girls."

OK, maybe that last song title doesn't quite fit. But ever since a caveman rubbed two sticks together and invented the rhythm section, it seems every era has had at least one popular tune encouraging its listeners to look on the brighter side of life.

Know why? Because LIFE IS HARD, that's why! It's chaotic, tedious, unpredictable and frequently unfair. And it feels even tougher when you have to face it each and every day in the company of a severe and disheartening illness – like Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) or End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD).

Oh, cheer up!

No, seriously. Cheer up.

The concept of a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) has been bouncing around our collective consciousness long before Napoleon Hill coined the expression in his book Think and Grow Rich in the 1930s. Modern research suggests the ol' PMA can play a major role in protecting you from the physical damages that ransack your body as a byproduct of stress.

Think and grow healthier. What a concept!

Home therapies like Peritoneal Dialysis (PD) (the treatment I use) and Home Hemodialysis (HHD) should give patients multiple reasons to be happier with their lot in life. They avoid having to arrange transportation for trips back and forth to the dialysis center several times each week; they don't have to sit in sterile, austere clinics for hours waiting for their procedure to be completed; and they escape the frustration of having their time wasted when their scheduled appointments are delayed.

Nonetheless, you do have a serious illness. CKD saps your energy, alters your lifestyle, and can dominate your thoughts. You certainly can be forgiven for not wanting to giggle like the Pillsbury Doughboy every day. I tend to think of myself as a generally optimistic and upbeat person, yet the diagnosis and constant care of my ESRD led to several dark days and melancholy thoughts. There are a few strategies I have developed from personal experience that might be helpful to you in maintaining the outlook of a shiny, happy person.

Get in Touch with a Higher Power.

No, not your governor. If you, like the band R.E.M., are losing your religion, this won't help you. But if you are, or ever have been a person of faith, there may be no better time to ratchet up your belief system. Reconnect or deepen your involvement with your church, mosque, temple or synagogue. You'll be stunned at how supportive a caring body of believers can be. You might even find a kidney donor!

Get up, Stand up.

Without trying to sound like Dr. Wayne Dyer, every morning when your eyes blink open you have a choice: you can choose to get out of bed happy and ready to attack the day, or you can crawl out ill-tempered and bemoaning your cruel fate. Choose the former. The mind can be a terrible thing to waste; don't let it lay you to waste.

Stay Engaged in Life.

I always have been something of a clothes horse. These days, even though I have fewer occasions to leave home, whenever I do go out – even for an appointment with my nephrologist – I try to clean myself up and dress like I'm going to a party. I also schedule regular visits to my barber, Bill, because if "your hair ain't tight, it ain't right." In other words, I try to maintain the same lifestyle I enjoyed before kidney disease became my permanent companion. If you look good, you tend to feel good. Don't change your routine. The activities and hobbies that gave you enjoyment before your illness probably still will. If you have to force yourself to stay active, do so – it's worth the effort.

Don't Block your Blessings.

Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it, and don't be resistant to accept assistance when it's offered. Family, friends, even total strangers, are remarkably willing to serve as the support system for somebody in need. And who are you to deny somebody the opportunity to feel good about themselves for performing a mitzvah?

Seek out Comrades in Kidneys.

In 2011, I attended my first convention of the American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP), and I often visit dialysis clinics just to talk to patients (with the permission of the clinic supervisors and patients, of course). These events give me direct contact with others who completely understand and relate to everything I'm going through.

Remember that old quote, "I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet"? Callous as it may seem, placing yourself in the company of other people with CKD can have the side effect of making you feel better about yourself. No matter how sick or woebegone you think you are, I guarantee you will find somebody who's got it worse. At the AAKP gathering I met kidney patients who had been on dialysis for 20, 30 years or longer or have had multiple failed organ transplants and still are leading positive, productive lives. Makes you think.

Write it Down.

Writing a first-person account of my ESRD diagnosis and treatment, turned out to be one of the best moves I ever have made. That article, and the positive feedback I received from it, inspired me to launch my first blog, "JK – Just Kidneying," to chronicle my journey with kidney disease. It can be a cathartic experience to describe in writing how CKD has affected you. If you're uncomfortable blogging about it for public consumption, keep a journal for your eyes only. You might consider this exercise: Every so often, make a list of things for which you are thankful. If I wrote such a list today, my top five would be:

  1. A loving God who guides and protects me
  2. The most amazing and supportive wife any man could hope for
  3. Hundreds of relatives, friends and colleagues around the world who pray every day for my continued health and a kidney donor
  4. A roof over my head, heat and air conditioning, and a kitchen stocked with healthy food
  5. You, for reading this

Cherish Life.

Cherish this life you have, kidney failure and all. Remember to laugh at yourself. Live life as if tomorrow will be your last day on earth; one day, you'll be right.

And don't worry, be happy.

Brought to You By Baxter Baxter